“But Mom, I am too old enough!”

Cute kid, a girl, playing with a smart phone in forrest.Your child can drive at 16, vote at 18, drink alcohol at 21. But other than these big milestones, parents receive little guidance on when the time is right for the many other rites of passage. There is no set age for when a child should start doing chores, when they’re old enough to go to the mall, when they should receive a cell phone or Facebook account. Thoughtful parents can ask themselves the following three questions to help determine if the time is right for a child to take on a
new responsibility.

What will my child learn from this? Every new step carries with it learning potential. Children who are held accountable for completing a daily chore or two will be able to better handle independence later. “Clay needs to throw his dirty clothes down the laundry chute,” says Jenn, of her 3-year-old. “Some days he likes to do it, some days he doesn’t, but regardless, it’s his job.”

Starting kids with jobs young, supervising them well, and continuing responsibilities into the teen years is an important way parents can help their children look outside themselves.

“Our teenage son sometimes complains about walking the dog each day,” says his dad, Francis. “He always has too much homework, or has less time this week because of sports practices, but we make him do it anyway. We are instilling in him that responsibilities outside the home don’t excuse us from helping the family.”

What are the risks? It’s a child’s job to try to become independent from their parents—and a cell phone, Facebook account, and trips with friends to the mall will all serve that desire to separate. But it’s the parent’s responsibility to understand the threats to a child’s safety, even as children insist everything will be fine.

Children will flourish when their steps toward independence are granted with caution and attention to both the benefits and risks. Children whose independence is limited in grade school will have a greater sense of self to draw on when they’re allowed to become more independent in high school.

Bart and Terri, parents of four boys in their teens and early 20s, did not allow cell phones until high school, and then required each boy to turn in the phone at 10 p.m. “It is rewarding to have our oldest son thank us for having restricted him when he was still living at home,” Terri says. “He’s now doing youth outreach work and is interested in studies showing the effects of limitless electronic use by teens.”

How is God guiding me? Mary and Joseph didn’t think their 12-year-old was old enough to be separated from their family, teaching in the Temple, but God had other plans. Conversely, 30-something Jesus wasn’t convinced it was time to turn water into wine until his mom nudged him into that job.

A deep faith can help parents keep their eyes on a bigger purpose than the question of the moment. “I am constantly praying that God guides me as a father,” says Mike, dad of two girls. “I find that having a consistent prayer life helps me in decision-making with my daughters because I am tuned in to the bigger picture of who God wants my children to become.”

By Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for  four years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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Photo: ©Flickr/hypotekyfidler.cz

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